Man who sued Twin Cities Archdiocese for abuse still wants justice

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 21, 2013 - 4:45 PM

Al Michaud gives a voice to outrage with Catholic Church.

Al Michaud couldn’t believe the reaction.

He had just told the Rev. Kevin McDonough, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that he’d been molested as a teen by a local Catholic priest. McDonough pulled out the priest’s file, Michaud recalled, and began to cry.

The Rev. Jerome Kern had allegedly groped and fondled at least two boys nearly a decade before he had molested Michaud in a pool at the St. Paul Seminary, and the archdiocese had a file on it. As a visibly shaken McDonough apologized, he told Michaud to give him a few weeks to take action on Kern, who was still in the ministry. “I thought I had an ally,” Michaud said.

But when Michaud called two weeks later, he remembers a completely different tone. He said McDonough acted as though he didn’t remember the conversation and told Michaud to pursue the case through other channels.

Michaud was stunned then. He’s even angrier now.

Two decades after that meeting and nearly 37 years after Kern sexually assaulted him, Michaud wants justice — and a face-to-face explanation.

He plans to file a report in coming days with St. Paul police documenting the 1977 assault in hopes that it will lead to criminal charges that could put Kern, now 72, behind bars.

“How many people sat down with Kevin McDonough and told their story and nothing happened?” Michaud said. “I’m angry. … And I’m not letting this go until it’s finally resolved, until [Kern] is in jail and people are held accountable.”

McDonough, who served 17 years as the archbishop’s top deputy, did not respond to several e-mails or phone messages. McDonough resigned in September from the University of St. Thomas board amid questions about his handling of another clergy sex abuse case.

A voice for victims

As the scrutiny of the archdiocese’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases has intensified in recent weeks, Michaud, a soft-spoken, 52-year-old stay-at-home father, has emerged as a face and a voice for victims.

Though he’s shared his story before, he stepped into the spotlight earlier this month when his attorney Jeff Anderson announced at a news conference another suit against Kern, this time for allegedly sexually abusing a boy while working at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina in the mid-1970s.

Michaud stood with a man identified as one of the earlier victims McDonough had told him about. In 1969 that boy had told his parents that Kern, then a priest at St. Mark’s Church in St. Paul, had repeatedly tried to put his hand inside his cutoff jeans and those of another boy during a swimming outing in Minneapolis. The families later reported the incident to the archdiocese.

According to confidential chancery documents and court records, Kern later told the parents in a face-to-face meeting that he hugged and grasped at the boys while practicing “Italian wrestling,” which he said he had learned while studying in Italy. Several months later, the priest was transferred to Our Lady of Grace and later, to Immaculate Heart of Mary in Minnetonka, where he worked at the time Michaud was assaulted.

Along the way, he abused at least 10 boys — five at Our Lady of Grace alone, according to documents and contacts compiled by Anderson’s firm.

“If they do the right thing” in 1969, said Mike Finnegan, an attorney working with Anderson, “most of these kids don’t get abused.”

Kern, who until recently was living in a residence for retired priests near the St. Paul Seminary, could not be reached for comment. The archdiocese repeated its previous statement that Kern was removed from ministry in 2002 and that it will investigate and respond to the claims.

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